Eslam, the Forgotten Eighth Grader

Part 1 of 3
I decided to try something every American teacher does and no teacher in my Jordanian school ever had, or so it seemed at least from the reaction of my students. I decided to assign seats, but in a precisely calculated way. I listed out all the girls in my eighth grade class, in order from the strongest student, a saucy know-it-all named Wafa’ with a strut like the Bantam roosters I had grown up next door to, down to the weakest, a petite girl named Eslam.
If I had not assigned seats to that class, with all that followed as a result, I would not even remember Eslam. If she was remarkable at all, it was because her clothes were more faded and ill-fitting than most of the other girls, her face and hands more chapped and ravaged by the effects of poverty and malnutrition. Less than half of the girls in the eighth grade wore hijab, and even those who did were not always consistent, but Eslam was never without her head covered. It was usually the same amira-style hijab, a tube of pale green cotton-poly knit that pulled over the head, with a little half-moon of material across the forehead to make sure her hairline was hidden.

Women in the village wore these as “work clothes,” doing yardwork or hanging laundry. They often kept a hijab amira near the door, in case they had to run out for something, but most women had a slicker, more sophisticated look for going to work or school, a long scarf of polyester weave with flowers or paisleys, maybe some metallic glitter. Eslam’s monochromatic hijab amira, dotted with the fuzz of repeated washing, was a sign of poverty greater than that of her classmates. Her total consistency in wearing it, though, hinted at a devotion to her faith that was stronger than the commitment of her classmates.